Sajan Patel was in the New Zealand Under-18 hockey team last year. He is the sports prefect and First XI captain at Rongotai College and has trained in the same gym as Olympic rowing champion Hamish Bond.
“It’s pretty surreal when I think about the opportunities I have if I work hard. Hamish Bond was at my gym,” Patel enthuses.
Patel is a member of the newly established Capital Hockey Regional Performance Centre (RPC) programme for the most talented 16 to 21 year old’s nationwide. One of the few school-aged athletes involved, Patel is working under the tutelage of Black Stick and Commonwealth Games silver medalist Dane Lett – Capital Hockey’s high-performance manager.
“It’s pretty intense. We train four times a week in addition to workshops and games, but I’m growing all the time,” Patel reveals.
Patel dabbled in football and rugby as a youngster but inevitably switched to hockey given his family lineage in the sport (mum and dad played). Patel is a striker, but plays in the midfield at Rongotai.
“We don’t have as much depth as some other schools so I play in the midfield for the First XI. As a senior player I’m in a position where I get the ball more and try to lead by example,” Patel explains.
Rongotai finished in the bottom four of the Wellington Premier competition last season but enjoyed a late resurgence making the Founders Cup final, thus confirming their place in the Rankin/India Cup Nationals in 2018.
“Our performances in Wellington were a bit disappointing, but we played well at the Founders Cup, beating HIBS (Hutt International Boys’ School) in the semi-finals and losing to a pretty handy Taupo Nui a Tia College side in the final. It was a good way to finish the season,” Patel reflects.
Patel scored four goals in six games in the Founders Cup and his diligence and fierce shot caught the eye of representative selectors. Patel (who also plays senior club hockey for Naenae) is hopeful Rongotai will perform better local fixtures in 2018.
“We’ve got a good bunch of boys with two Wellington Under-18 reps and a few 15’s and 16’s reps. I think we can be in the top four,” he says.
Patel identifies local Black Stick Stephen Jenness as his favourite player. Sara Cooper (Wellington Girls’ College) is the only other Wellington player involved in the RPC.
Following grading rounds, the Premier 1 secondary school competition gets underway at the NHC next Friday.
The 2018 school hockey season is two weeks old, and Wellington Girls’ College has so far had two good grading competition wins to seal their spot in the Premier 1 competition.
WGC has beaten St Mary’s College (4-0) and Wellington East Girls’ College (4-1) but an early season test for them is this coming Friday, ahead of the competition proper starting on 25 May.
“We have got two wins under the belt, but this Friday we play Queen Margaret College who are probably our biggest rival,” says WGC captain Sara Cooper.
“They have always been strong and we don’t beat them very often,” Sara says. “Last year they were in the final against [winners] St Matthew’s, so they are always tough.”
Sara, who is mainly a midfielder and sometimes at striker, has been in the WGC First XI since year 10 so is starting her fourth season in the team.
Last year WGC came third in Premier 1 behind St Matthew’s Collegiate and QMC before competing in the Jenny Hair national tournament in Palmerston North, two tiers below the tier 1 Federation Cup.
“So we wanted to finish inside the top two to make the Federation Cup. We made the quarter-finals and went to shootouts and it didn’t go our way – we bailed quite early in that competition.”
It was a similar theme the previous year, so a clear goal of WGC in 2018 is to improve on these recent seasons and finish either first or second to qualify for the Federation Cup-Marie Fry Trophy tournament. Sara says WGC has a mix of experienced and up and coming players this season.
“There is also Charlotte Leslie who has been in the team since year 10 with me. There are two more year 13s, Olivia Wills and Georgia Steedon. There is Jade Jones who is a year 12 striker and is the Capital U18 team with me and we have also got quite a few U15 girls in the group.”
Sara says that defending champions St Matthew’s are again a team to beat in Premier 1 this year. “They also have the Capital U18 goalie in their team, Natalie Austin.”
That Capital Women’s U18s side has just been named, along with their Men’s equivalent, to compete in the National U18 tournament in Dunedin in mid-July. So all the players selected in that are also busy training a couple of times a week for representative hockey as well as for their schools. As well as for school and training with the U18s, Sara plays club hockey for Hutt United.
Needless to say, with such a busy schedule, hockey is it for Sara sporting-wise. “It is just hockey for me this year, as it is quite full-on. I used to do a lot of athletics as well, as a hurdler and also did shot put and discus mainly.”
The Capital U18 Women’s Team 2018 is:
Natalie Austin, Jaime Borthwick, Trinity Clarke, Sara Cooper, Bella Cronin-Stone, Brooke Eddie, Ashleigh Hill, Jade Jones, Jessica Kelly, Ariel Kelman, Sophia Kersten, Emma Martin, Maddie Mclaren, Tania Noble-Shedlock, Georgie Peterson, Emily Register, Minna-Rose Reid, Amy Rossiter-Stead.
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